It may sound sacrilegious to wine professionals, but the simplest and most effective way to preserve opened wine is to freeze it.
As we illustrated in Part 1, wine’s flavor is never static at any age, but rapid changes begin as soon as a wine cork is pulled.
There are two types of changes that drive wine spoilage once the bottle is opened. One driven by evaporation and another by exposure to air. Wine’s volatile aroma and flavor compounds dissipate progressively over time, leaving all but the finest wines tasting noticeably flatter and less fragrant within a matter of hours.
Meanwhile, the rush of oxygen-rich air triggers a cascade of oxidation reactions within the wine that begin compromise the freshness of its flavor, and will eventually brown its color as well. Airborne micro-organisms come along for the ride, such as yeasts that can spark refermentation and acetobacter, which starts wine on its long slow march toward becoming vinegar.
Most wine preservation devices are ineffective. Some only address one of the two forms of degradation, as with vacuum pumps which slow exposure to air but sadly speed up flavor loss to evaporation. Others may address both to some extent, as with those that blanket the wine with an inert gas, but these don’t work perfectly and their efficiency wanes after a few days.
Coravin devices are the most effective of the bunch, but are in a different category, since the wine is extracted without opening the bottle.
But when wine is frozen, both forms of spoilage grind to a near halt.
Freezing cannot save every shred of flavor in fresh wine – nothing can. But just as prompt freezing is the best way to preserve fresh-picked fruit or vegetables, freezing wine is shockingly efficient for retaining the flavor of a freshly opened bottle.
Best of all, no other preservation method has its staying power. A frozen wine will taste the same whether it is thawed after a day, a week, a month, or a year.
If you’re not convinced, test it at home!
Open two bottles of the same wine. Pour out at least a glass from each and then put one in the freezer and use your preferred preservation device on the other. After a week, thaw your frozen bottle and compare side by side.
This method certainly raises eyebrows, but it’s hard to argue with its flavorful results.
Marnie Old is one of the country’s leading wine educators. Formerly the director of wine studies for Manhattan’s French Culinary Institute, she is best known for her visually engaging books published by DK – such as Wine: A Tasting Course. Marnie currently serves as director of vinlightenment for Boisset Collection. Read her recent piece, Warm Days, Cool Nights: Why They Matter for Wine.